Written by Hubert Chang and syndicated from the Prince Arthur Herald.
Every generation gets the icon it deserves. Icons that, in the words of legendary rapper Tupac Shakur, “change the way we eat, change the way we live, and change the way we treat each other.” For many of us who grew up in the ’90s, Allen “A.I.” Iverson is such a figure. Born into a world of competition and overconsumption, caught in the dawn of a changing world of technological acceleration, we sought something solid to keep our feet on the ground, something real in the sea of artificiality. He is the personification of our generation, simply because he is the definition of “real.” Not how the term is defined in Webster’s Dictionary, mind you, but how it is widely perceived amongst the Generation Y — “real” as in staying true to oneself and not attempting to be anything other than who or what one is. No hidden clauses. No fine prints. No unanswered questions. Simply put, when you look at the man affectionately known as “The Answer,” what you see is the unsolicited truth.
Iverson has received unfair treatment from the media and NBA insiders, Chang contends.
Fast forward to 2008 and everything came crashing down. Maybe we should have seen it coming all along. Maybe the NBA, contrary to its claim, isn’t really about who’s the best player. What’s apparent is that the concerted effort to blacklist and destroy the career and legacy of Allen Iverson is, alongside the Black Sox Scandal, the biggest injustice in the history of sports.
There were signs — many of them, in fact. From getting criticized by basketball greats Charles Barkley and Karl Malone for his attitude, style of dress, and large entourage, to NBA Commissioner David Stern’s deliberate attempts to slow down Iverson by implementing zone defence, and stripping away his individuality by introducing the dress code. Stern appointed Iverson’s well-known nemesis Steve Javie as the referee in Game 2 of the 2001 Finals after Iverson shocked the world by beating the Lakers in Game 1. In short, the old guards of the institution are not content with someone who “shook” them.
Stern, Joe Dumars, and the sports media, specifically ESPN, have an agenda: create a league that revolves around Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, with sideshows of a new generation of manufactured, clean-cut, boring clones — namely Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin — to appeal to corporate America. Unfortunately, they could not accomplish this without sabotaging that one single popular icon: Allen Iverson. As a result, Iverson was sent to basketball purgatory — Detroit — where NBA insider Dumars was free to do Stern’s dirty work and run the franchise into the ground with ailing owner Bill Davidson.
Well, numbers don’t lie. During A.I.’s last season with Denver in 2008, the Nuggets set a franchise record in wins and Iverson set a career high in shooting percentage at 45 per cent, an average of 27 points and seven assists per game while drawing tons of fouls and getting to the free throw line ten times per game. Sure, they got swept by the Lakers in the first round, but if you watched the series closely, you would find that Gasol and Odom owned K-Mart and Camby throughout the series. And Iverson, as usual, did not get owned by anyone.
Later, when Iverson signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, he was promised a chance to win a starting job. He played well during his three games off the bench but not only did he not start, he was benched during crunch time and was again getting the eighth man minutes that had driven him from the Pistons. During the second game, A.I. led the second unit to a huge comeback, but was put on the bench as the scrubs in Memphis gave the game away. Looking at Memphis now, the team got a lot better this year when they finally decided to bench O.J. Mayo, the infamous ball-hog they chose to start over A.I. It became obvious to Iverson and every fan who understands basketball that not only will he never start in Memphis, he won’t even play more than 24 minutes a game, no matter how well he plays. The injustice lies in that even washed up stars like Shaq, Jason Kidd, and Grant Hill are still starting every game and no one is questioning their roles. Besides, A.I., fresh off one of the best seasons of his career, was far from being washed up.
To add insult to injury, media and all the basketball veterans who harbour ancient hatred of A.I. predictably proceeded to kick him while he was down. The likes of Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, and Karl Malone, to name a few, brainwashed the public by trashing Iverson in the media, calling him washed-up, a team killer, a coach killer, a cancer to justify their efforts in the sabotage of his career.
Fans in Philadelphia naturally wanted their hero back, but the Sixers refused to let A.I. be A.I., and insulted him with a humiliating non-guaranteed deal, essentially their way of saying that if Iverson were to go back to his superstar ways, they were going to release him. Someone high up even threatened him to come up with the sick daughter excuse after grassroots campaigns got him voted into the all-star game. He had repeatedly confirmed his attendance and had returned to practice on the Monday after All-Star Weekend.
Back in February last year, so-called insiders and analysts bombarded fans with anti-A.I. columns and even went so far as to call diehard fans stupid. Stephen A Smith wrote an article saying how A.I. was gambling and drinking his life away. Michael Jordan was investigated by the FBI for gambling. Jason Kidd hangs around Steve Wynn. Nothing happened. Maybe the NBA should blackball Jarrett Jack, who got busted for a DUI. Iverson never had a DUI. He wasn’t doing anything different than what he has been doing his entire career.
What’s more is that we’re not stupid. We knew exactly what we were doing. We wanted to let Stern and his yes-men know that we’re not stupid enough to fall for his propaganda campaign. We wanted to hang onto the legend that inspired us to stay true to ourselves throughout our childhood and adolescent years. In a recent interview with Slam magazine, Iverson acknowledged his sacrifice. “I’m not bitter about it, ’cause I think I helped people feel like they could be themselves,” he said. “I took that beating, and now you see guys being whoever they want to be.”
Iverson is an icon, an inspiration, a wonderful force to be reckoned with. Most of all, he’s a joy to watch, and for that I will always be grateful.
Keep ya head up, A.I.